Northern Ireland

Abuse victims advocate says Westminster legislation is his priority

Brendan McAllister
Image caption Brendan McAllister is a former Northern Ireland victims' commissioner

The newly appointed advocate for victims of historical abuse has said his top priority is to see legislation passed at Westminster to help victims and survivors.

Brendan McAllister met victims groups in Belfast on Tuesday.

He has been appointed to work for survivors and to ensure their voice is being heard.

Mr McAllister said his job was to "ensure legislation is passed as quickly as possible".

He added that the law would have to "reflect what [survivors] believe the system needs to provide for them" and that "various care arrangements" for survivors also needed to be urgently looked at.

BBC News NI revealed on Monday that Mr McAllister had been appointed to the role.

It comes after an inquiry, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, concluded in 2017 that there had been widespread abuse and mistreatment in some Northern Ireland children's homes between 1922 and 1995.

Margaret McGuckin, who represents the group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said there were "lots of tears and lots of questions" at their meeting.

She said the appointment of an advocate was "a long time coming", but that she felt the group can put their trust in Mr McAllister.

Ms McGuckin also said she hoped the interim advocate would go to David Sterling, the head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland, to ask at what stage the legislation is at.

Mr Sterling said the appointment was the fulfilment of a commitment he gave to victims and survivors to "provide a strong independent voice to support and advocate on their behalf".

The interim advocate will operate until the Statutory Commissioner for Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Childhood Abuse has been appointed, in line with the recommendation in the Hart Inquiry report.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The HIA inquiry was set up to examine allegations of child abuse in children's homes and other institutions

Mr Sterling said it was a "hugely significant appointment".

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) studied allegations of abuse in 22 homes and other residential institutions between 1922 to 1995.

It found that children's homes run by some churches, charities and state institutions in Northern Ireland were the scene of widespread abuse and mistreatment of young residents.

It recommended compensation to abuse survivors. Sir Anthony said payments, starting at £7,500, should be made to all survivors.

The role of interim advocate is independent of government and aims to advocate on behalf of victims and survivors during the passage of legislative proposals.

Mr McAllister is a former victims commissioner who then moved into the international peace mediation field in 2012.

He will take up the interim advocate post on 12 August.

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